31 July 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) New policy, old test-
- The current education policy was drafted in the 1980s. It underwent modifications in 1992.
- But that was when the liberalisation of the economy was barely out of the policy books, the importance of the digital sphere wasn’t recognised beyond specialist circles, the demographic dividend was scarcely talked about and the Right To Education Act was a decade-and-a-half away from entering the statute book.
- The New Education Policy (NEP), announced by the government on Wednesday, is thus long overdue.
- It has been in the making for nearly five years and reports of two committees — the TSR Subramanian Committee in 2016 and the K Kasturirangan Committee last year — have informed the final draft.
- The challenge before its framers was not just to respond to the dynamics of the knowledge economy but also to reckon(signal) with a milieu(atmosphere) in which pedagogy(teaching) has become deeply politicised.
- To its credit, the policy does not bear too heavy an imprint of the deeply polarised political climate in which it has been finalised.
- The NEP proposes the extension of the Right to Education (RTE) to all children up to the age of 18 but it is also alive to the criticism that while mandating accessibility, the RTE Act paid short shrift to learning outcomes.
- It talks about improving foundational literacy and numeracy and underlines the importance of pedagogical(teaching) and technological interventions to scale down the learning crisis.
- It proposes a range of measures that aim “to make education more experiential, holistic, discovery-oriented, learner-centred and enjoyable”.
- The move to make the mother tongue or the local language the medium of instruction is also a welcome move.
- It is welcome that children will be given more choice of subjects, and “there will be no hard separation among arts, humanities and sciences”.
- In higher education too, it does well to envisage the breaking of boundaries between disciplines and transforming institutions “into large multi-disciplinary universities and colleges”.
- Yet enormous challenges remain. The policy recognises, for instance, that “vibrant campus life is essential for high-quality teaching learning processes”.
- But if developments in some of the country’s premier universities — JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia, for instance — are indication, the campus’s promise as a space that nurtures critical thought, political argument and debate is increasingly embattled.
- The NEP’s claims will also come up against a sharpening fault line — India’s digital divide that has been highlighted and deepened by the COVID pandemic.
- As an ongoing series of reports in this paper during the lockdown have highlighted, the classroom itself is under pressure like never before.
- Disparities between the rich and poor, urban and rural, show up strikingly in access to digital tools.
- If technology is a force-multiplier in some cases, in others it is inaccessible.
- The looming economic distress is playing out harshly in schools with students dropping out, their parents out of work and unable to pay fees, teachers not being paid their dues.
- Surely, these are beyond the NEP’s remit but the test of a policy is on the ground — not just on paper.
- With the largest number of young — and poor — in the world, the task is cut out.
- National Education Policy’s stress on reforms is welcome. It will be tested on campus and in classroom where deep faultlines(differences) lie.
- The New Education Policy (NEP), announced by the government on Wednesday, is thus long overdue.
2) Taking the easy way out-
- The government’s proposal to raise the legal age of marriage for women illustrates a timeless principle of governance that rises above all ideologies.
- At a time when the country is facing its worst overall crisis since Independence, the government has set up a special task force to advise it on the issue of raising the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21 years.
- We know only too well that India is usually near the bottom of the international rankings on gender indicators.
- India also has the largest absolute number of girls who marry below the age of 18.
- Therefore, raising the age of marriage to 21 could well be seen as a step towards gender equality that also addresses the health problems of young mothers and their infants.
- But unfortunately, this reasoning is both unsound and unwise.
- The topic of “child marriage” in contemporary India has not received the attention it needs.
- Public discussion is confined to the occasional coverage in the media where child marriage and trafficking are often carelessly conflated.
- The periodic National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) provide an internationally-recognised measure of child marriage, namely, the proportion of those in the age group 20-24 years who married before reaching 18 years of age.
- In the latest survey, NFHS-4 of 2015-16, this proportion is 26.8 per cent, down from 47 per cent in 2005-06.
- This is a significant decline and the Census shows a similar trend between 2001 to 2011.
- Along with such impressive declines, NFHS-4 shows that only 6.6 per cent were marrying below the age of 15.
- In other words, the problem in India today is no longer of child marriage but late adolescent marriage, and a declining one.
- It might interest readers to know that there are no differences between Hindus and Muslims in these trends.
- There is an almost global consensus on 18 years as the age of social adulthood.
- A common threshold for voting rights, driving privileges and much else (with employment and sexual consent at even younger ages), it is also the most common standard for marriage across the world.
- Scientists have recognised it as the age when the female body reaches full development, such that a healthy woman with adequate ante-natal care can be expected to have a healthy baby.
- It is already the legal age of marriage in India, so why the hurry to raise it above the international norm?
- Raising the age of marriage will raise the age of motherhood, and thus the probability that mother and child will be healthier. It will also lower the fertility rate.
- But this answer rests on a partial truth that is dangerously misleading.
- Our health indicators on young mothers and their infants are as bad as they are because poorer (and therefore more malnourished) women are marrying at younger ages compared to their wealthier counterparts.
- If poor women continue to remain poor and malnourished, raising their age of marriage by a few years will change very little.
- Much of the same problems will recur when they marry at 21 years. This fact is confirmed by carefully disaggregated statistical analyses.
- Moreover, fertility rates in India have been declining sharply.
- Demographers have been pleasantly surprised by the decline even in states like West Bengal and Telangana, which have high rates of early marriage.
- Poor families today are having small families. Little is gained by pushing them to have these children three years later.
- Even in a progressive state like Kerala, famous for high levels of education and excellent health services, one-third (of women between 20-24) marry before they are 21.
- Remember that these numbers are under-estimates since they do not count those women currently in the 18-20 age group who might also marry before 21.
- How will it help to render such women without legal recourse by going beyond the international norm of 18 years?
INVESTING IN EDUCATION:
- There is so much else that must be tackled first.
- Numerous studies show that parents are investing in their daughters’ education (with near gender parity even in higher education), but our education system is failing the young.
- With few avenues of gainful employment for young women, a home-bound school drop-out becomes a source of anxiety, and marriage the only viable prospect.
- Well-intentioned conditional cash transfer schemes by state governments rewarding families who obey the law are popularly known as “dahej” (dowry) schemes.
- Instead of tackling gender inequality, they reinforce the belief that girls are a burden relieved only by marriage.
- To bring genuine change, we need free education beyond schooling for girls, coupled with job guarantees, especially for those from rural areas and vulnerable social locations.
- This would make it genuinely possible for girls to have some say as to whether, how or when they wished to marry.
- Poverty, not age of marriage, is responsible for women's poor health indicators.
3) Fighting the infodemic-
- A significant data project for systematic, long-term engagement with the COVID-19 pandemic awaits clearance from the ethics committee of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
- In collaboration with the health ministry and other institutions of national importance, the ICMR will pool a national clinical registry covering all COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalised.
- The institutions will mentor other clinical organisations involved in the response to the pandemic, to widen the footprint of the database.
- Both in the short and long term, the utility of a common repository for clinical data cannot be underestimated.
- The biggest challenge that the pandemic has presented to health professionals and policymakers is a lack of standardised information.
- Amidst an infodemic, the world wasted valuable time in the pursuit of off-label miracle cures, ranging from a malaria drug to a vermifuge, on the basis of questionable or indifferent reports.
- Many reported results that would have been treated as anecdotal(informal), were the world not in crisis mode.
- Even now, the long-term effects of the novel coronavirus remain in the realm of conjecture(guess).
- Physicians are repeatedly calling for caution, as they report numerous yet anecdotal(unreliable) cases of recovered patients who return months after recovery with damage to organs.
- A unified database is essential for tracking patients over the long term, for their own safety, to propagate(spread) successful interventions globally.
- It will also help to examine how the virus may interact with other factors, like genetic makeup, comorbidities, location, climate and diet.
- In the short term, a database would help to answer critical questions.
- What is the phone number of the nearest plasma donor? Which patients can be helped immediately by a newly discovered intervention?
- But to be completely useful, such a database should engage patients.
- They should be able to report changes in their condition directly to the database in an organised and delimited manner.
- It should automatically flag the need for intervention to the authorities, and points of interest to researchers.
A unified database of COVID-19 patients would streamline immediate responses and warn of future effects.